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I Was a Superyacht Stew for 8 Years. Here’s What Life Is Really Like Working ‘Below Deck’

Forget what you see on TV. Here’s what really happens below deck when you work onboard a superyacht. 

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s legends, myths, and now reality TV shows us, life onboard superyachts can be shrouded by secrecy and sordid stories.

My first season onboard consisted mainly of boat bites (that’s bruises in the real world) from balancing my way around a moving luxury yacht while gripping on tightly to the exquisite tray of canapés. There was also a lot of eye-rolling, wondering what I was doing on a billionaire’s floating vacation home. I was a stewardess.

A stewardess is responsible for cleaning the yacht’s interior and guest service. Outside, the deck team runs the show, maintaining and washing down the boat. Like any setup on land, management–the yacht’s Captain and Bridge Officers–are also involved. Unlike hotels, yachts also require an engineering team to operate the engines and machinery smoothly onboard.

Fast-forward eight years, and I have had the pleasure (most of the time) of having worked on various superyachts, ranging in size, with a whole host of guests and owners. I have had my fair share of weird, wonderful, and downright worrying requests. Here is just a small snippet of them.

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No Such Response as “No”

The yacht crew has to make the impossible possible. They have to exceed expectations. Go above and beyond. Think five-star hospitality service, but better. By the time a charter is over, you could write the client’s memoir or at least a highly descriptive preference book. You become experts on them, from their music tastes to how much parmesan they like grated on their fresh pasta; from their afternoon nap schedule to their bowel movements. So, when they ask for something, they get it. There is no room for error, no room for no, even when asked to turn up the temperature of the Mediterranean Sea. Because for billionaires, anything can be done, right?

You Want What?

Fellow yacht crews will shiver at the word “provisioning.” Simply put, it’s a yachtie’s term for shopping and filling the boat to the brim with stuff (and potential stuff) that guests onboard may need or want. This can leave room for ridiculous requests, such as to make sure their particular Floridian supermarket premium label of apple juice is onboard in Tahiti—and no, you cannot freshly press apples; it has to be shipped in.

When we were also asked, “can you just get some fresh [Japanese] wasabi delivered to the Caribbean,” people will go to great lengths to provide the best sushi condiments. Aside from the shocking number of far-flung items that a superyacht pantry holds, it is also a logistical nightmare for crew stocking up in remote destinations. However, the perks of being a stew, like going scuba diving with turtles in Tahiti, easily make me forget about apple juice conundrums.

Discreet Service and Blurred Lines

When guests are onboard enjoying their vacation, the crew is on standby for them at all times of the day. A superyacht is the epitome of luxury. The onboard service carried out by the interior crew is unparalleled. The owner’s son wants grilled cheese after his night out at 3 a.m.? Sure, served on the best crockery with 100% linen napkins, with a side of Fiji water poured into a crystal glass. The service needs to be faultless and without judgment. I worked on one summer trip which consisted of mainly saying goodbye at breakfast to the owner’s girlfriend and hello to the owner’s wife during lunchtime the same day. Cue the owner’s wife, then grilling each crew member about who had been on the boat since she was last there. Safe to say that sometimes moral compasses can be skewed in this industry.

Housekeeping Calls 

Whether you work outside, on deck, in the interior, or inside the yacht, cleanliness is to be maintained at the highest standard. I still struggle with the yacht-clean mentality, seeing fingerprints wherever I go. Each day onboard will include some form of cleaning. From detailing (yes, the industry has its own lexicon for cleaning) to deep cleaning (usually removing heavy objects to get underneath with a duster). Laundry is also part of housekeeping. I have drowned in both guest and crew laundry piles multiple times, to have come out the other side being able to fold underwear with origami precision. But let me tell you, no amount of magic laundry product will be able to get the fake tan stain out of $1,000 luxury Egyptian cotton hand towels. Before the laundry flows, the crew has the task of unpacking the guest’s luggage. Sometimes, this means cutting off labels of dresses and shirts because a lot of it is brand new. On the flip side, I have also sewn up holes in an owner’s threadbare t-shirt. I mean, you’d think they could afford to get themselves down to Target for some new ones.

The Plus Ones 

No matter who is onboard, they all are looked after with the same level of service. The human guests aren’t the only VIPs; they can sometimes come in tow with pets. One guest trip had me doing turndowns–this is where chocolates are left on pillows, blinds drawn, and the bathroom left spotless for the onboard–for their Dachshund. Not only did the four-legged friend sleep in a guest cabin on its luxury dog bed, but it also dined out on the best caviar for dinner. It really is a dog’s life.

Back to the humans, I also had a two-year-old eat saffron risotto from the best crockery while throwing it across the white linen tablecloth. These moments mean taking a deep breath and remembering the previous week, when the owner gave you a VIP pass to drink champagne at the Monaco Grand Prix for the afternoon. Welcome to yachting, a world of swings and roundabouts.

A Floating Playground 

If you had an unlimited bank account and a luxury yacht, there isn’t much you couldn’t do, so what does a guest actually do onboard? It depends on who is onboard the yacht and how the days go. I have had some guests wander around old European towns for the afternoon to turn in for the night at 9 p.m. Or the charter clients’ kids that have made the deck team get every single inflatable toy out to only play with one of them for two minutes.

I also had a corporate charter onboard. Instead of carrying out their team-building exercises, I spent the morning taking photos, which involved hovering in the yacht’s helicopter at a certain angle to achieve that perfect shot (anything for Instagram).

Then one summer, the owners’ son took partying to a whole new level. Think celebrities, champagne, and illegal substances. There have also been times on board when I have witnessed billionaires at their most ordinary, like an owner helping his kids with their school project at the breakfast table. Sometimes it’s not only the outlandish behavior that catches you off guard.

2 Comments
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NJS36 December 29, 2022

I thought drugs had to be reported immediately.